I am not going to tell you that Tete Rusconi was my mentor, my teacher, or my best friend. He was none of those. I hardly danced with him in the 10 years that I knew him. The reality was that although I admired him tremendously, I didn't care much for his style of dancing. I did however adore him. He was one of the many personalities of the milongas here in Buenos Aires. Everyone loved him.
I met Tete my second trip to Buenos Aires. I had no idea who he was. Actually I had no idea who anyone was except for the few who had come through San Francisco to teach. He came up to me in a milonga full of himself in a way that only he could be, stood right in front of me and went "Soy Tete." I remember standing there blinking. I wasn't sure what to do, and then he started to sing. I thought he was crazy. I walked away as fast as I could while he laughed at me.
I remember telling the woman I was staying with about this crazy old guy who came up to me, announced himself and started to sing. She told me who Tete was. She said he was one of the milongueros, an excellent teacher and dancer, but yes, crazy. In a good way.
The next time I saw him he made sure to come up to me and just started to sing. This time I laughed at him and told him my name. He gave me a kiss. This started a sort of game between us. Every time I came to Buenos Aires (before I moved here) and I would see him, I would see if I could surprise him before he started to sing to me.
I was sitting in El Beso. I think it was the summer of 2002. I was at a table alone and it was early. In came Tete with a bag. He sat down next to me and opened the bag. It was full of ice cream bars. He looked at me and said "Dinner." I thought he was being funny. He offered me an ice cream, but I really did not want one. He proceeded to sit there and eat maybe 4 or 5 ice cream bars. I realize now, it probably was his dinner. Most of these guys didn't have much money and ice cream bars were cheap.
One time in 2003 when I came here in the winter I got sick. One of my friends who owns a tango house didn't want me to be alone. She had some free rooms and asked me to come stay with her. I bundled myself up and moved to her place for a few days miserable with the flu.
One morning at about 10 I came into the kitchen in my PJs and there was Tete at the table eating pizza. I was a mess. He took one look at me and started to sing. He told me he was going to stay there for 3 days. My friend later told me, she allowed him to stay at her place 3 days because he had no money and no where else to go. Like everyone else, she adored him, and wanted him to have somewhere to go.
It was those 3 days that I spent with Tete, that I learned about him and his tango. Yes, he was a rock and roll dancer to start with, but once he started to dance tango, he never stopped. It was a love affair that ended with his life. He loved everything about tango, the music, the dance, the milongas. Teaching for him was a way to spread his joy. It was never about money for him.
I remember there was another house guest staying there. She came into the kitchen that morning and was horrified by this old guy eating pizza at 10:30 in the morning and me in my pajamas talking to him. I introduced her. He did not fit her ideal of a tango teacher.
Like most milongueros he asked her if she liked Buenos Aires, tango, where she was dancing. When they started to talk about tango (with me in the middle as translator) she gave him this rap about pilates and inner core. Pilates had not yet come to Buenos Aires, and really, it would not matter if it had.
He wanted to dance with her. She was really put off. I told her she was lucky. I knew the teachers she was taking lessons from. Finally she consented to a dance. When they finished, he told her she needed to learn to walk. He started to show her. It was obvious she didn't want to hear it. Instead she talked about pilates.
He asked me if I did this pilates thing whatever it was. I told him no. Then in my pijamas he asked me to dance, flu stomach, headache, and all. So we did. He told her to watch my feet. He told her "She knows how to walk." The woman didn't care, excused herself and left.
I sat there in the kitchen with Tete, sick, and listened to him for another hour. First I had to explain pilates. That made him laugh. "She thinks that will teach her tango?" He talked about learning to walk. He got up and showed me. He talked about the embrace and how important it was. Then he talked about the music. "Never lose your embrace" he told me, "and don't stop walking."
I always saw Tete in the milongas. From time to time at a party or an asado. He always greeted me. In the last few months he would give me a hug to go with the kiss on my cheek. He had long stopped singing to me. Instead we played a game of making faces at each other, like children. In Niño Bien last month he kissed me on the mouth, which is not really acceptable. I told him so. He knew I was mad. He stuck his tongue out at me.
The last time I saw him was at Porteño just before New Year's. He gave me a big hug and kiss. He told me to have a good New Year. He made sure the kiss fell on my cheek.
I was home. Oksana and I had been talking for more than an hour. Then in five minutes she called me back. "Tete died." she told me. "Miguel just sent me a message." I was numb. We both started rambling.
I am very sad. This era is ending. Omar..Gatito...and now Tete among others. I am sad for the tango as I once knew it. I will continue walking because I cannot stop. I will never lose my embrace. Bless you Tete, you will be missed.